The state received test results for eighty more residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus Monday, bringing the total number of residents who have tested positive to 180.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the ages of the people who tested positive over the last day range from five to 93. Mercer County has five new cases, and Middlesex County has five new cases. Three of the five Mercer cases are Princeton residents whose results were announced by the local health officer on Sunday. It is unclear whether the other Mercer cases are the two staffers at Princeton University whose positive test results were announced over the weekend. It is also unclear which cases in surrounding counties are related to a Feb. 29 Princeton party where at least a dozen people have tested positive for the coronavirus so far.
The new test results announced by state officials Monday are results that have been submitted to or forwarded to the New Jersey Department of Health since Sunday afternoon. Some results may not have been reported to the state and thus don’t appear in state data sets yet, because commercial labs send the results to local health officers, who then must submit them to the state.
Currently, the only people in the state who are being tested are healthcare workers, people with certain symptoms who have been exposed to a coronavirus cluster in New Jersey, and people who have been hospitalized because of their symptoms. People with milder symptoms are being told to stay home and self-quarantine.
At a press briefing at the New Jersey State House in Trenton on Monday afternoon, Gov. Phil Murphy announced a series of measures to contain the outbreak, including issuing closing all public, private and parochial schools, colleges, and universities starting Wednesday. Daycare centers are not being forced to close, Murphy said. Murphy said schools will remain closed until they are deemed safe for the return of students, staff members, and teachers. Many school districts already shifted to distance learning for the next two weeks. Murphy said the closures likely will be longer based on information from the CDC.
“We won’t tie ourselves to an arbitrary date,” Murphy said. “We will not put students, educators, and staff at risk.” He added that the school closures should not be seen as a spring break. “Students are expected to receive a good dose of remote learning,” he said.
Murphy said the state had to take stronger action to make sure people are not congregating and enabling the coronavirus to spread. He stressed that he has not instituted a curfew. “This is a recommendation, and travel is strongly discouraged,” Murphy said. ” If you don’t need to be on the roads, you should not be on the roads. For those who do not need to be out, please, please, please just stay home.”
Restrictions ordered or recommended by the state include the following:
- All non-essential and non-emergency travel is discouraged between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily.
- Non-essential businesses can remain open during the day but must close by 8 p.m. daily. The occupancy must be no more than 50 people at a time, and people must practice social distancing by keeping six feet away from others. This includes malls, barbershops, hair salons, and many other retail centers and businesses.
- Essential businesses such as supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations can remain open past 8 p.m. daily.
- Restaurants, bars, and other food businesses are not allowed to offer dine-in services starting at 8 p.m. Monday. These businesses can offer take-out, curbside pickup, and delivery daily though.
- All casinos, race tracks, night clubs, gyms, fitness centers, and classes will also close entirely beginning at 8 p.m. Monday until they are deemed safe for reopening.
- All gatherings of 50 people or more are canceled and banned beginning at 8 p.m. Monday until further notice.
- The Department of Motor Vehicles is closed. This includes offices and inspection stations. Anyone whose license or registration will expire before May 31 will automatically have it extended for two months. Officials are encouraging residents to renew registrations and licenses online.
- Open spaces at state parks and wildlife management areas are available for passive recreation. Enclosed park facilities, campgrounds at state parks, forests, and recreation areas are closed. The state is postponing all upcoming events, programming and camping reservations in state parks and wildlife management areas through April 30. Refunds will be issued, and events can be rescheduled later.
Murphy called on citizens to take the public health crisis seriously. “This is not fake news. This is real. Stop believing folks who say it isn’t real,” Murphy said. “Those who think it cant affect them, I’m here to tell you it can.”
The New Jersey National Guard has been activated to assist as necessary,” Murphy said. “We do not take any of these steps lightly. Each comes with sets of impacts on residents, families, and businesses. Our paramount concern is to flatten the curve so we don’t overwhelm the hospital system. We need everyone to stay put and to stay home.”
Murphy said from what officials witnessed this past weekend, not enough Ner Jersey residents are taking the threat seriously and staying home, especially young people.
“There is no reason anyone should run the risk of infecting friends or loved ones in their community, especially people who are the most vulnerable,” he said. “No one should even consider going to a bar. There will be another Saint Patrick’s Day next year. Staying home could mean the difference between you or someone you love making it to next year. To every New Jersian who has already taken personal responsibility to heart, I thank you. Keep doing what you are doing to be a model to others who may need a wake-up call.”
Murphy said people should not panic. “It’s time for smart, intelligent aggressive, proactive action. It is equally true that it is not business as usual. We have the two extremes — we have packed bars, and then we have no toilet paper (because of hoarding). We need to bring people to a more rational reality. This does not come without a price, a big economic price. But if we don’t act, the price will be larger both for humanity, and economically.”
He said the state won’t look kindly on big house parties and will give business owners who do not follow guidelines a warning before penalizing them. People who break rules will be issued violations for disorderly conduct.
State officials are working on ramping up testing capabilities. Commerical labs have already boosted testing capacity. Two FEMA testing drive-thru sites are being set up, one in Bergen County and another at the PNC Arts Center in Monmouth County. The opening date for the centers is not known yet. State officials are also working with counties in New Jersey to set up a testing site in each county. Patients will need to be pre-screened by their doctors to be able to go to these facilities and take the COVID-19 test. We will post more information about these testing facilities on Planet Princeton as it becomes available.
State officials said the emphasis needs to be on community behaviors, social distancing, and self-isolation now as the number of coronavirus cases have increased. State officials are not as focused on tracing points of contact where people may have been exposed to the virus given how it has spread in the state now.